Review: Hamilton (Disney Plus stream)
The musical makes its way online for all to see
We didn't even have to wait for it all that long – 15 months ahead of its initial release date, the filmed Broadway production of Hamilton is about to arrive on Disney Plus following a whopping eight-figure deal. You'll be able to watch the story of the ten dollar founding father for less than ten dollars.
This is a special occasion for any musical fan – seeing those who originated each of the principal roles in the show, which follows Alexander Hamilton as he arrives as a penniless immigrant and emerges as one of the most important men in US history, from the comfort of your own home, or streamed on your smartphone. You might never have been in the room where it happened back in 2016 when it was recorded, but now you get the next best thing (and for a fraction of the price).
Compared to other chipper, joy-filled musicals that are there by the shovel load on Disney Plus, Hamilton, clocking in at 160 minutes, does not shy away from both the bloody creation of the US nation nor the recent discussions around the treatment of minorities on streets across the world. As creator Lin-Manuel Miranda states during a quick opening message, "it takes on a different meaning when you see Black and Brown performers telling the origin story of our country".
Beginning with a young boy landing in New York and ending with a man murdered for a misunderstanding, Hamilton's quality as a stage show has been lauded by thousands of critics, audience members and awards judges. You can't move for hot takes on the hottest show of the century. But can a filmed version ever really capture the magic that made Hamilton such a runaway success?
There might be something a bit odd about seeing the "Ten Duel Commandments" backing track play out over the Disney logo, but after that, it's safe to say, audiences are not going to be disappointed by the rip-roaring rollercoaster of musical prowess.
Tommy Kail, who directed the stage show and has recently wowed with his TV series Fosse / Verdon goes behind the camera here. It's a perfect choice – Kail knows every bit of blocking, every angle of his stage show, and gives the film a kinetic, organic feeling. Special mention has to go to the camera operators – giddily whipping and whirling across the stage during the show's near constant choreography and understated but slick lighting from Howell Binkley.
It is a fascinating experience – a director re-examining their own work, quite literally, through a new lens. If Kail has to know which shots would work, then he also has to know which ones might not. Filmed both in front of live audiences and interspersed with separate close-ups captured later on, he is unafraid of lingering on a face for an extra beat to note an actor's reaction, before cutting wide and letting Andy Blankenbeuhler's choreography do its own revolutionary work (the double whammy of "Helpless" and "Satisfied" is a particular highlight).
Changes are minimal. The interval is cut down to sixty seconds and a couple of swear-words have been censored (as Miranda himself mentions, he "gave two f**ks so the kids could see it") with varied degrees of success. Sound mixing has cut out a few moments of the inevitable audience applause when each of the leading stars appears on stage for the first time (except, oddly, for Jonathan Groff as the bejewelled and extravagantly maniacal George III and Christopher Jackson's gruff, uncompromising George Washington).
Miranda joked that they were filming with the most well-rehearsed cast imaginable, and it shows. Little flourishes in performances are given a chance to shine – some great comedic timing by Miranda in "Aaron Burr, Sir", a sly smile between Daveed Diggs' Lafayette and Jasmine Cephas Jones' Peggy Schuyler at Hamilton's wedding, or Phillippa Soo's (Eliza Schuyler Hamilton) cheeky wink at passers-by in "The Schuyler Sisters". Even the little bit of drool rolling down Groff's face during "You'll be Back" has a moment in the spotlight.
Though it's Miranda's show, it's Leslie Odom Jr that gives the most nuanced, masterful performance as Hamilton's nemesis Aaron Burr. He imbues the one-time vice president with a high-pitched, almost wailing desperation – voice cracking as he is robbed of his chance to be remembered as a hero.
He has some stellar support – Anthony Ramos, who took on the role of Usnavi in the film of Miranda's other award-winning musical In the Heights, is a wonder in a part that can often go unacknowledged as Laurens / Phillip Schuyler – cajoling Burr during "The Story of Tonight" reprise and playing the audience for laughs after his rapping in "Take A Break". Daveed Diggs has a hoot as Jefferson and Lafayette, kicking off the second act with a show-stopping "What Did I Miss?".
Interestingly, some of the chills come in different places here – the echoes when Ramos' Laurens calls for an uprising in "My Shot", seeing the three Schuyler sisters sigh with relief after a triumphant performance of their first number, or Jackson hyping up the Broadway audience as the first Cabinet Battle begins. Elsewhere, a lengthy shot of Renée Elise Goldsberry's (Angelica Schuyler) haunted face in "Right Hand Man" conveys the true terror of revolutionary war.
And what of the main man himself as the tragic founding father? All the hallmarks of a performer knowing his show through-and-through are on show, but Miranda, when not giving his protagonist a tortured, unquenchable drive, is unafraid from having a bit of fun – be it effervescent joy as he declares "I was chosen for the constitutional convention", a cheeky smile when he finds out he's running the US Treasury, or hiccuping as he rails against his commander's orders in "Meet Me Inside".
The show's timeliness continues – Hamilton's immigrant status is used to vilify him during his political battles, while the long shadow of slavery hovers over the actions of all of the founding fathers – particularly when John Laurens' dream of seeing an all-Black battalion created are left unrealised. Ramos' cry that "Tomorrow there'll be more of us" will not soon be forgotten.
In an age where streaming productions risks becoming the new normal, Hamilton is streets ahead of anything else on offer. Will it ever have the thrills of seeing the show live on stage, when you get the boom of two giant subwoofer bass speakers, or the thrill of watching the choreography in action? Of course not – it would be a strange day when a recorded performance outmatches its on-stage counterpart.
These are dark times for the theatre industry – venues are shutting, communities are unable to come together and jobs are being lost. Miranda and Disney's decision to put the gargantuan musical online won't fix these epochal problems, but may provide a slight respite – a beautiful tribute to the power of the performing arts. In her rave review of the West End production Sarah Crompton said she'd love to "rewind to the very start and watch it all again". Well, wish granted.
Hamilton will be available to stream on Disney Plus from 3 July